More tests 'mean less stress'

23rd November 2007 at 00:00
So says Ed Balls, despite plans for a seven-fold increase in exams for some pupils.More tests will mean less stress for pupils, the Children, Families and Schools Secretary said this week.

Ed Balls made the claim as he rejected the theory that children are suffering "toxic childhoods". He said their lives were "better than ever" and suggested the "progression" tests about to be piloted could further improve the situation.

The Making Good Progress pilot - which will run in 484 schools from next month - would result in shorter high-stakes tests but could mean some pupils experience a seven-fold increase in the number they sit.

The scheme gives pupils between the ages of 7 and 14 two opportunities a year to show they have progressed a national curriculum level.

Mr Balls said: "That may allow both more testing and focus on individual progress and less stress because you space it through the year rather than having one particular test at one particular age point.

"By monitoring progress on a more regular basis, you take away more of the stress."

John Bangs, head of education for the National Union of Teachers, said: "I think they (progress tests) are likely to mean different forms of stress. They may lead to coaching from parents and constant questions of 'What's your latest level?'

"Stress will only disappear when the high-stakes nature of the tests goes and the results are not used for league tables."

Mr Balls used evidence gathered in preparation for the Government's 10-year children's plan - due to be published in December - to rebut growing claims that UK children are unhappy and stressed.

Last week an Ofsted survey found that nearly a third of children were regularly bullied and that nearly a fifth of 10- to 15-year-olds had been drunk at least once in the previous four weeks.

And in February, the children's charity Unicef published a study depicting British children as the unhappiest in the developed world.

But Mr Balls said there was too much focus on the negative.

"It worries me that one in 10 children have diagnosed mental health problems. But it also means that 90 per cent don't," he said.

"If you choose to pull out the challenges in a long list, you can make things look pessimistic.

"Childhood is better than it has been, ever."

He said the children's plan would place more focus on the vulnerable "tweenage", 8-13 years, when problems tend to surface and young people experience the difficult primary to secondary transition.

Mr Balls sees getting parents more engaged with their children's education as key to helping pupils.

He suggested that secondaries could make parents feel more involved by putting on social events for those with Year 6 children about to join the school.

Another idea being considered is the "studio schools" plan, first revealed by The TES in February. Under this scheme, small 14-19 schools would aim to renew teenagers' enthusiasm for education through hands-on work experience in businesses.

The research report revealed that England was one of the top three European countries where 15-year-olds were likely to drink alcohol and use cannabis.

Mr Balls condemned family members who allowed children out to get drunk with their friends. "If parents give 15- to 16-year-olds a four-pack to go off and have a drink, I think that's the wrong thing to do," he said.

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